Why I added TikTok to my ‘anxiety tool kit’ and you should too

 A self-described Millennial with the heart of a Boomer, one writer discovered TikTok was an amazing tool for combatting anxiety, especially in the COVID pandemic. 

When I see the term ‘TikTok’ I instinctively have the urge to add in two ‘c’s’ to make it linguistically correct, or I think of those Tic Toc biscuits with the clock faces and coloured icing on them.

You see, being a Millennial with the heart of a Boomer, the social media platform TikTok hadn’t really been my cup of tea. Other than seeing the occasional, more mature-aged celeb like Courtney Cox post funny TikTok videos of them embarrassing their children (thus relatable) and re-sharing through other platforms that I do use, most of what I knew about TikTok wasn’t really that enticing.

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But then, from a much ‘cooler’ friend of mine, I learned that psychologists are taking to TikTok to help people with mental health issues in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as a way to reach those in isolation.

British psychologist Dr Julie Smith gained more than two million followers since her first post on the platform in November 2019 by making mental health-related videos for her audience. Her videos range from dancing to comedic scenes, or simple straightforward explainers and focus on a variety of mental health topics, from stress, anxiety, bipolar, and depression.

As an anxiety sufferer myself, not to mention a writer of such topics, I decided that I ought to do my due diligence and look into TikTok to see if it could do what it has done for many others, help my anxiety and mental health.

So, with a quick download of the TikTok app (which felt like selling my soul to the Devil itself), I navigated my way in true Boomer style to Dr Julie Smith’s page. After I began to watch the videos, quite quickly I had to concede that they were exactly as my friend described: “really engaging and effective in an entertaining way.”

Over the next few weeks, I continued to explore Dr Smith’s TikTok, focusing on her videos that related to anxiety. And what I found were simple skills or snippets of information which helped me immensely.

They helped explain what to look out for in those who suffer from anxiety

The 5 Signs of anxiety video outlines some of the main ways anxiety manifests within a person. From sleep disturbances, feeling exhausted but unable to stop thinking or doing, as well as persistent and constant worry.

By sharing what signs to look out for in an anxiety sufferer helped me realise that others may experience the condition differently from me. It also assisted me in identifying some anxiety within myself that I hadn’t actually been aware of.

Experiencing anxiety can be scary

In Dr Smith’s video ‘the Scary Signs of Anxiety’, it outlined that some signs of anxiety can manifest physically in our body and sometimes be quite scary to experience.

From shortness of breath to heart palpitations, often these signs will come on when you are feeling anxious but being the really annoying friend anxiety is, this physical sensation, in turn, makes you more anxious. By Dr Smith explaining why we experience these sensations and also sharing with us that we can do something about them was really helpful to know.

By making fun of some anxiety truths helped me feel understood

Sometimes knowing that others feel the same way that you do is comforting. So, when Dr Smith shared some of these in-joke anxiety posts (which really sum up the reality of experiencing anxiety in specific situations), she made me laugh and feel understood.

Like when you take your socially anxious self to a party and all you want to do is retreat somewhere alone with your drink. Or in this video, retreat into a drawer with your drink. Or when you share your experience of anxiety, like panic attacks, with others who don’t quite get it.

Practical tips to combat anxiety

Not only is Dr Smith super relatable she also goes through practical ways to combat anxiety including breathing techniques such as this ‘count of four’ technique that you can use anywhere at any time (yes, even in public).

She also demonstrates how to use everyday items such as ice as a way to combat your anxiety. This includes ‘ice diving’- the action of putting your face into a bowl of ice to help an overwhelming sensation of anxiety.

How to tackle anxiety in the body

Finally, the biggest way Dr Smith’s TikTok videos really helped me with my anxiety was via her more practical videos including this one on how to tackle anxiety within your body.

From massaging the sides of your head to relaxing your jaw by placing your tongue to the roof of your mouth and also by readjusting the position of your shoulders, the video demonstrates how to release areas that often hold anxiety in your body through demonstration. It is simple, clear and it works.

While TikTok may still not be my number one in terms of social media, videos like these have been a really helpful addition to my anxiety toolkit, and the fact that they are easy and often entertaining to watch doesn’t hurt either.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.